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What's Freaking Me Out

Dental Cleaning Videos Are Disgusting and Satisfying

Almost as appealing as watching a pimple get popped.

Melissa Meinzer

Pimple-popping videos are yesterday's news. True connoisseurs of the genre have moved on, apparently, to brutal dental cleaning videos like the one above. And if that does anything for you, then you're part of a surprisingly robust online community. Many videos like these—blackhead extractions, pimples being squeezed into oblivion—have garnered millions of views. So what's the appeal?

"Some people find it satisfying to see something sort of cleaned out, so to speak," says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, who kindly endured the tooth cleaning video, "so the disgust gets replaced with some kind of catharsis."

Disgust is a universal emotion. Every culture experiences it, and it serves a primitive function of keeping us safe. But it seems we also like to dance with it: Rutledge compares the experience to watching a horror movie. "You go in with the expectation that you're going to see something gross, disgusting, and scary," she says. "You're going to have that physical reaction, but you also know that the bad guy's going to get caught and the good guy's going to win."


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And it's true—there aren't a lot of cleaning or popping or otherwise gross physical catharsis videos that leave you hanging, with tooth scuzz unremoved or a blackhead unvanquished. "You're experiencing all this extreme emotion and then you have resolution," she says. "Along with that, you have a very clear [goal]. You're defeating the villain."

Beyond that, Rutledge posits that the millions of people who watch these videos may be seeking out the parts of life that we've swept away in our modern, hyper-sanitized bubbles. For instance, it's easy to forget that your chicken doesn't arrive to the store shrink-wrapped, plucked, and ready for eating—minus all the messy killing. "I wonder if the appeal of some of these videos," Rutledge says, "are people who are experimenting with unpleasant aspects of life [they're] sanitized from."

But for as popular as they are, the appeal clearly isn't universal: "It makes me cringe," says Mazen Natour, a Manhattan-based prosthodontist who also endured the video, adding that he sees people with horribly neglected teeth and gums every week at his New York City practice. Natour says that while he can't say for sure how long that kind of buildup would take, his best guess is that it likely resulted from a decade or more of neglect.

And that, strangely, could be the lone silver lining to these clips, he says. Natour hopes people will find them motivating, a chance to pause and perhaps think, "I don't want this to happen to me, and I need to get my act together," he says.

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